Jean Renoir finally returns to a liberated France to capture all the color and gaiety of Belle Epoque Paris in this fictionalized look at the birth of the Moulin Rouge and the Cancan.
Henri Danglard’s (Jean Gavin) nightclub is doing a lackluster business despite the attraction of Lola ‘La Belle Abbesse’ (Maria Felix), a fiery Spanish beauty who belly-dances and sings for the crowd. Henri and Lola are having an affair. One night they decide to go slumming in Montmarte. There Henri finds that people are still dancing the cancan. He dreams of opening a place where the bourgeoise could enjoy moderately priced luxuries and beautiful, untarnished girls.
He also notices a young laundress dancing at the cafe, who appears to have the requisite talent. Her name is Nini (Françoise Arnoul). Danglard dances with her, sparking the jealousy that will consume Lola for the rest of the film. He asks Nini to try out for a show. She assumes this offer will include a visit to the casting couch so moves quickly to lose her virginity to her baker sweetheart Paolo. But Danglard treats her only with gentlemanly courtesy,
The rest of the movie follows the Danglard’s money woes in builiding the Moulin Rouge and the training of the dancers. Eventually, Danglard and Nini begin an affair leading to typical love dramas with Lola, Paulo, and a Russian Prince who has taken a fancy to Nini. But the plot is very secondary to several musical numbers and the spendid dancing.
After a long exile, Renoir returned to his beloved Paris in a mood to recreate her most glamorous days. He also masters his father’s ways with the faces and figures of beautiful women. He found the perfect rosy Renoir subject in Arnoul. Gabin lost little of his sex appeal as he aged. This is all handled in such a way that it might very well appeal to musical comedy naysayers. Recommended.
Clip – Edith Piaf